Acetone is a very useful chemical for a lot of projects. When it comes to the world of 3D printing, acetone vapor polishing is a helpful and cost-effective way to improve product quality in multiple ways. The result not only makes your product look better, but it can also increase its utility and resilience to stress.
Acetone, also called propane or dimethyl ketone, is a very commonly used solvent when diluted with water. You have probably used acetone in some form around your own home, as it is the active ingredient in both paint thinner and nail polish remover. Interestingly, it is produced by the human body in small amounts that vary based upon diet. However, those amounts are not enough to use it for anything productive; luckily, it is also produced industrially.
This chemical sees a lot of use in hobbies that interact with plastic, specifically ABS plastic. Modeling hobbies make ample use of it to smooth and modify plastic models. It is just caustic enough to this material that it modifies it without causing significant damage. It is also great for removing marker and pen marks from both glass and metal for the same reasons.
These traits also make acetone great for vapor polishing ABS 3D printed plastic. Vapor polishing is a method used to make plastic glossy and glass smooth. With transparent items, the result is in fact almost glass-like, allowing it to be used for a variety of functions. Almost all modern headlamp covers, for instance, are made of vapor polished plastic that is at first glance indistinguishable from clear glass, though much more resilient and more economical.
Vapor polishing with acetone is usually done with an acetone bath. Products to be vapor polished are placed in a sealed chamber filled with an acetone solution. This solution is usually around 80 percent acetone with the rest benign water. Once properly sealed, the chamber is then heated to around 80 degrees Celsius for about 10 minutes, creating an acetone vapor inside the chamber. The result is that the acetone vapor polishing solution coats the product surface evenly. This causes the plastic surfaces to liquify in response to the acetone, which then smoothes as a result of surface tension. When the chamber is opened and products are removed, the remaining acetone solution evaporates and leaves the plastic surface glassy smooth.
Acetone vapor polishing is always done in a very controlled environment to prevent any environmental contamination. While a common chemical, acetone has its own hazards. It is a highly flammable chemical and can be ignited even by static charge, though this sort of accidental ignition is very rare. The acetone solutions used for acetone vapor polishing contain a significant portion of water which further reduces the chance of ignition. Acetone is not particularly hazardous when coming into contact with skin, though it does cause mild irritation to skin and significant irritation to skin.
Acetone vapor polishing is fairly environmentally friendly. Vapor polishing always occurs in controlled, sealed environments. Acetone is a chemical that requires very acute doses to significantly affect living things. It does occur naturally, though not in very high concentrations. Acetone evaporates rapidly and is degraded by sunlight into methane and ethane (also natural chemicals). This relative mildness and low environmental risk is part of why it sees so much common household use.
What advantage is there to acetone vapor polishing? As stated above, the result of acetone vapor polishing on ABS plastic is a glass-like surface and transparency on clear materials. This can be very important for 3D printed materials because it reduces exposed and visible layers.
3D printing is done layer by layer. These layers are often very visible in the completed product. They can be unsightly. The area between exposed layers can also be potential breakage points. If an unfinished 3D printed product was dropped just so, it could shear align the lines of the exposed layers. With acetone vapor polishing, these layers are smoothed over on the outside of the product, resulting in a more polished, professional look as well as increased resilience. Acetone vapor polishing works on the entire exposed surface, including interior cavities that could not be reached by any form of hand polishing due to size or surface angles.
The material that reacts to acetone vapor polishing very well, ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), is used for many things you see every day. This includes but is hardly limited to toys (Lego bricks are made from ABS plastic), computer keyboards, and switchplates. Its blend of resilience, stiffness, low melting point, and cheap price make it perfect for many uses. It is relatively harmless, though it is not safe enough for use in medical implants. It is easy to color and holds color very well- look at a bin full of random Lego bricks sometimes for proof. It is easy to machine, sand, and even paint. When you think of plastic, you think of ABS plastic.
This means acetone vapor polishing is a tried and true practice. It is incredibly safe and, in modern times, done with little human contact with the acetone vapor polishing solution itself. It has relatively low environmental impact and, due to the commonality of acetone, costs very little. The results that you see in everyday life speak to the effectiveness of acetone vapor polishing in achieving glasslike, strong surfaces.
At JawsTec, we use top-of-the-line vapor polishing machines to ensure excellent results and maximize the safety of our team. Our services are used by companies such as Tesla, BMA, Delta, and Ford. We provide best-in-industry services whether your project is big or small, simple or complex, being produced in industrial batches or on a hobbyist scale. Our expert team can help you take your project from the roughest design concepts to a fully finished and professional product ready for presentation as a prototype or for sale to satisfied consumers. Contact us today or use our 3D print quote tool to see how we can help you with your project today.